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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Farewell of Leather-Stocking

By James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851)

[From The Pioneers. 1822.]

THE PLACE at which they arrived was the little spot of level ground, where the cabin of the Leather-Stocking had so long stood. Elizabeth found it entirely cleared of rubbish, and beautifully laid down in turf, by the removal of sods, which, in common with the surrounding country, had grown gay, under the influence of profuse showers, as if a second spring had passed over the land. This little place was surrounded by a circle of mason-work, and they entered by a small gate, near which, to the surprise of both, the rifle of Natty was leaning against the wall. Hector and the slut reposed on the grass by its side, as if conscious that, however altered, they were lying on the ground, and were surrounded by objects, with which they were familiar. The hunter himself was stretched on the earth, before a head-stone of white marble, pushing aside with his fingers the long grass that had already sprung up from the luxuriant soil around its base, apparently to lay bare the inscription. By the side of this stone, which was a simple slab at the head of a grave, stood a rich monument, decorated with an urn, and ornamented with the chisel.

Oliver and Elizabeth approached the graves with a light tread, unheard by the old hunter, whose sunburnt face was working, and whose eyes twinkled as if something impeded their vision. After some little time, Natty raised himself slowly from the ground, and said aloud,—

“Well, well—I’m bold to say it’s all right! There’s something that I suppose is reading; but I can’t make anything of it; though the pipe and the tomahawk, and the moccasons, be pretty well—pretty well, for a man that, I dares to say, never seed ’ither of the things. Ah’s me! there they lie, side by side, happy enough! Who will there be to put me in the ’arth when my time comes?”

“When that unfortunate hour arrives, Natty, friends shall not be wanting to perform the last offices for you,” said Oliver, a little touched at the hunter’s soliloquy.

The old man turned, without manifesting surprise, for he had got the Indian habits in this particular, and running his hand under the bottom of his nose, seemed to wipe away his sorrow with the action.

“You’ve come out to see the graves, children, have ye?” he said; “well, well, they’re wholesome sights to young as well as old.”

“I hope they are fitted to your liking,” said Effingham; “no one has a better right than yourself to be consulted in the matter.”

“Why, seeing that I ain’t used to fine graves,” returned the old man, “it is but little matter consarning my taste. Ye laid the Major’s head to the west, and Mohegan’s to the east, did ye, lad?”

“At your request it was done.”

“It’s so best,” said the hunter; “they thought they had to journey different ways, children; though there is One greater than all, who’ll bring the just together, at his own time, and who’ll whiten the skin of a black-moor, and place him on a footing with princes.”

“There is but little reason to doubt that,” said Elizabeth, whose decided tones were changed to a soft, melancholy voice; “I trust we shall all meet again, and be happy together.”

“Shall we, child, shall we?” exclaimed the hunter, with unusual fervor; “there’s comfort in that thought too. But before I go, I should like to know what ’tis you tell these people, that be flocking into the country like pigeons in the spring, of the old Delaware, and of the bravest white man that ever trod the hills.”

Effingham and Elizabeth were surprised at the manner of the Leather-Stocking, which was unusually impressive and solemn; but, attributing it to the scene, the young man turned to the monument, and read aloud,—

“‘Sacred to the memory of Oliver Effingham, Esquire, formerly a Major in his B. Majesty’s 60th Foot; a soldier of tried valor; a subject of chivalrous loyalty; and a man of honesty. To these virtues, he added the graces of a Christian. The morning of his life was spent in honor, wealth, and power; but its evening was obscured by poverty, neglect, and disease, which were alleviated only by the tender care of his old, faithful, and upright friend and attendant, Nathaniel Bumppo. His descendants rear this stone to the virtues of the master, and to the enduring gratitude of the servant.’”

The Leather-Stocking stared at the sound of his own name, and a smile of joy illumined his wrinkled features, as he said,—

“And did ye say it, lad? have you then got the old man’s name cut in the stone by the side of his master’s? God bless ye, children! ’twas a kind thought, and kindness goes to the heart as life shortens.”

Elizabeth turned her back to the speakers. Effingham made a fruitless effort before he succeeded in saying,—

“It is there cut in plain marble; but it should have been written in letters of gold!”

“Show me the name, boy,” said Natty, with simple eagerness; “let me see my own name placed in such honor. ’Tis a gin’rous gift to a man who leaves none of his name and family behind him, in a country where he has tarried so long.”

Effingham guided his finger to the spot, and Natty followed the windings of the letters to the end with deep interest, when he raised himself from the tomb, and said,—

“I suppose it’s all right; and it’s kindly thought, and kindly done! But what have ye put over the red-skin?”

“You shall hear:—

“‘This stone is raised to the memory of an Indian chief, of the Delaware tribe, who was known by the several names of John Mohegan; Mohican’”—

“Mo-hee-can, lad, they call theirselves! ’he-can.”

“Mohican; ‘and Chingagook’”—

“’Gach, boy; ’gach-gook; Chingachgook, which, intarpreted, means Big Sarpent. The name should be set down right, for an Indian’s name has always some meaning in it.”

“I will see it altered. ‘He was the last of his people who continued to inhabit this country; and it may be said of him, that his faults were those of an Indian, and his virtues those of a man.’”

“You never said truer word, Mr. Oliver; ah’s me! if you had knowed him as I did, in his prime, in that very battle where the old gentleman, who sleeps by his side, saved his life, when them thieves, the Iroquois, had him at the stake, you’d have said all that, and more too. I cut the thongs with this very hand, and gave him my own tomahawk and knife, seeing that the rifle was always my fav’rite weapon. He did lay about him like a man! I met him as I was coming home from the trail, with eleven Mingo scalps on his pole. You needn’t shudder, Madam Effingham, for they was all from shaved heads and warriors. When I look about me, at these hills, where I could count sometimes twenty smokes, curling over the tree-tops, from the Delaware camps, it raises mournful thoughts, to think that not a red-skin is left of them all; unless it be a drunken vagabond from the Oneidas, or them Yankee Indians, who, they say, be moving up from the sea-shore; and who belong to none of God’s creaturs, to my seeming, being, as it were, neither fish nor flesh—neither white man nor savage. Well, well! the time has come at last, and I must go”—

“Go!” echoed Edwards, “whither do you go?”

The Leather-Stocking, who had imbibed, unconsciously, many of the Indian qualities, though he always thought of himself as of a civilized being, compared with even the Delawares, averted his face to conceal the workings of his muscles, as he stooped to lift a large pack from behind the tomb, which he placed deliberately on his shoulders.

“Go!” exclaimed Elizabeth, approaching him with a hurried step; “you should not venture so far in the woods alone, at your time of life, Natty; indeed, it is imprudent. He is bent, Effingham, on some distant hunting.”

“What Mrs. Effingham tells you is true, Leather-Stocking,” said Edwards; “there can be no necessity for your submitting to such hardships now! So throw aside your pack, and confine your hunt to the mountains near us, if you will go.”

“Hardship! ’tis a pleasure, children, and the greatest that is left me on this side the grave.”

“No, no; you shall not go to such a distance,” cried Elizabeth, laying her white hand on his deerskin pack; “I am right! I feel his camp-kettle, and a canister of powder! he must not be suffered to wander so far from us, Oliver; remember how suddenly Mohegan dropped away.”

“I knowed the parting would come hard, children; I knowed it would!” said Natty, “and so I got aside to look at the graves by myself, and thought if I left ye the keepsake which the Major gave me, when we first parted in the woods, ye wouldn’t take it unkind, but would know, that, let the old man’s body go where it might, his feelings stayed behind him.”

“This means something more than common!” exclaimed the youth; “where is it, Natty, that you purpose going?”

The hunter drew nigh him with a confident, reasoning air, as if what he had to say would silence all objections, and replied,—

“Why, lad, they tell me that on the Big Lakes there’s the best of hunting, and a great range, without a white man on it, unless it may be one like myself. I’m weary of living in clearings, and where the hammer is sounding in my ears from sunrise to sundown. And though I’m much bound to ye both, children—I wouldn’t say it if it was not true—I crave to go into the woods ag’in, I do.”

“Woods!” echoed Elizabeth, trembling with her feelings; “do you not call these endless forests woods?”

“Ah! child, these be nothing to a man that’s used to the wilderness. I have took but little comfort sin’ your father come on with his settlers; but I wouldn’t go far, while the life was in the body that lies under the sod there. But now he’s gone, and Chingachgook is gone; and you be both young and happy. Yes! the big house has rung with merriment this month past! And now, I thought, was the time to try to get a little comfort in the close of my days. Woods! indeed! I doesn’t call these woods, Madam Effingham, where I lose myself every day of my life in the clearings.”

“If there be anything wanting to your comfort, name it, Leather-Stocking; if it be attainable it is yours.”

“You mean all for the best, lad; I know it; and so does Madam, too: but your ways isn’t my ways. ’Tis like the dead there, who thought, when the breath was in them, that one went east, and one went west, to find their heavens; but they’ll meet at last; and so shall we, children. Yes, ind as you’ve begun, and we shall meet in the land of the just at last.”

“This is so new! so unexpected!” said Elizabeth, in almost breathless excitement; “I had thought you meant to live with us and die with us, Natty.”

“Words are of no avail,” exclaimed her husband; “the habits of forty years are not to be dispossessed by the ties of a day. I know you too well to urge you further, Natty; unless you will let me build you a hut on one of the distant hills, where we can sometimes see you, and know that you are comfortable.”

“Don’t fear for the Leather-Stocking, children; God will see that his days be provided for, and his ind happy. I know you mean all for the best, but our ways doesn’t agree. I love the woods, and ye relish the face of man; I eat when hungry, and drink when a-dry; and ye keep stated hours and rules: nay, nay, you even overfeed the dogs, lad, from pure kindness; and hounds should be gaunty to run well. The meanest of God’s creaturs be made for some use, and I’m formed for the wilderness; if ye love me, let me go where my soul craves to be ag’in!”

The appeal was decisive; and not another word of entreaty for him to remain was then uttered; but Elizabeth bent her head to her bosom and wept, while her husband dashed away the tears from his eyes; and, with hands that almost refused to perform their office, he produced his pocket-book, and extended a parcel of bank-notes to the hunter.

“Take these,” he said, “at least take these; secure them about your person, and in the hour of need they will do you good service.”

The old man took the notes, and examined them with a curious eye.

“This, then, is some of the new-fashioned money that they’ve been making at Albany, out of paper! It can’t be worth much to they that hasn’t l’arning! No, no, lad—take back the stuff; it will do me no sarvice. I took kear to get all the Frenchman’s powder afore he broke up, and they say lead grows where I’m going. It isn’t even fit for wads, seeing that I use none but leather! Madam Effingham, let an old man kiss your hand, and wish God’s choicest blessings on you and your’n.”

“Once more let me beseech you, stay!” cried Elizabeth. “Do not, Leather-Stocking, leave me to grieve for the man who has twice rescued me from death, and who has served those I love so faithfully. For my sake, if not for your own, stay. I shall see you in those frightful dreams that still haunt my nights, dying in poverty and age, by the side of those terrific beasts you slew. There will be no evil, that sickness, want, and solitude can inflict, that my fancy will not conjure as your fate. Stay with us, old man, if not for your own sake, at least for ours.”

“Such thoughts and bitter dreams, Madam Effingham,” returned the hunter, solemnly, “will never haunt an innocent parson long. They’ll pass away with God’s pleasure. And if the catamounts be yet brought to your eyes in sleep, ’tis not for my sake, but to show you the power of Him that led me there to save you. Trust in God, Madam, and your honorable husband, and the thoughts for an old man like me can never be long nor bitter. I pray that the Lord will keep you in mind—the Lord that lives in clearings as well as in the wilderness—and bless you, and all that belong to you, from this time till the great day when the whites shall meet the red-skins in judgment, and justice shall be the law, and not power.”

Elizabeth raised her head, and offered her colorless cheek to his salute, when he lifted his cap and touched it respectfully. His hand was grasped with convulsive fervor by the youth, who continued silent. The hunter prepared himself for his journey, drawing his belt tighter, and wasting his moments in the little reluctant movements of a sorrowful departure. Once or twice he essayed to speak, but a rising in his throat prevented it. At length he shouldered his rifle, and cried with a clear huntsman’s call that echoed through the woods,—

“He-e-e-re, he-e-e-re, pups—away, dogs, away; ye’ll be footsore afore ye see the ind of the journey!”

The hounds leaped from the earth at this cry, and scenting around the graves and the silent pair, as if conscious of their own destination, they followed humbly at the heels of their master. A short pause succeeded, during which even the youth concealed his face on his grandfather’s tomb. When the pride of manhood, however, had suppressed the feelings of nature, he turned to renew his entreaties, but saw that the cemetery was occupied only by himself and his wife.

“He is gone!” cried Effingham.

Elizabeth raised her face, and saw the old hunter standing, looking back for a moment, on the verge of the wood. As he caught their glances, he drew his hard hand hastily across his eyes again, waved it on high for an adieu, and uttering a forced cry to his dogs, who were crouching at his feet, he entered the forest.

This was the last that they ever saw of the Leather-Stocking, whose rapid movements preceded the pursuit which Judge Temple both ordered and conducted. He had gone far towards the setting sun,—the foremost in that band of pioneers who are opening the way for the march of the nation across the continent.